Nano in the Teen Years

I recently participated in a nanotechnology panel discussion on November 21 sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, and the Georgetown University Program on Science in the Public Interest. pressed into service somewhat at the last minute as a replacement, all I knew was that NPR journalist David Kestenbaum was going to conduct a roundtable on the subject with “no notes, no powerpoint.” Turned out to be a lot of fun.

The video is lengthy. My main contributions come at

3:06 Asked to name one of my “favorite” applications of nano. Listen to the first few minutes for the context.

9:27 One of my real favorite nano applications, the gold nanoshell


26:40 Use of carbon  nanofibers in tennis rackets

37:09 How government agencies are approaching regulation

54:20 the finer points of nano risk research

1:07:41 Know NIOSH, love NIOSH

Nanotechnology in the 2010′s: The Teen Years from Science in the Public Interest on Vimeo.

Posted in carbon nanotubes, nanoEHS, nanotechnology and occupational health, NIOSH, occupational safety, regulation, risk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Me:David::Rush Limbaugh:Goliath

A worker training program has nothing to do with workers. That is only one of the puzzling conclusions drawn by a conservative commentator about a federal grant program.

Followers of my work know that I was recently awarded a Susan Harwood Training Grant from OSHA to develop training materials for safe handling of nanomaterials in the workplace. I just returned from the mandatory grantees orientation meeting in Washington, DC., where, in addition to getting better acquainted with the Region 6 OSHA folks who will be administering my grant out of Dallas, TX, I got to learn better about the goals and objectives of the SH program, get answers to very specific program and financial questions early in the grant year and mix it up with my fellow grantees.

The main meeting started off with the standard introductory remarks by higher-ups at OSHA and its parent organization, the U.S. Department of Labor. Typical opening statements delivered by VIPs are often big on motivation and boilerplate mission-and-vision stuff and short on content or controversy. So imagine my surprise when Dr. Hank Payne, director of the Directorate of Training and Education, warned us that the grants we had just been awarded could be subject to greater scrutiny than in previous years due to shifting political winds.

It’s no surprise that the new Congress could bring with it a tougher climate for all types of federal grants, as House Republicans look to make good on their campaign promises of fiscal responsibility and elimination of wasteful government spending. We’ve all seen those exposés of allegedly outrageous federal grants—$3 million to study fish sex! $1.5 million to prove that caffeine makes you more alert!—and now there’s even a website where you can enter the grant number of a National Science Foundation grant that you believe is a waste of taxpayer money. [Tip: If you don't want your grant to be targeted avoid using these keywords: success, culture, media, games, social norm, lawyers, museum, leisure, stimulus. I think I'm OK.] But it was news to me when Dr. Payne informed us that the humble Susan Harwood program, which doled out a grand total of $10.75 million to 61 organizations, had attracted the attention of no less than Rush Limbaugh.

On September 10, 2010, Limbaugh devoted some time on his show to excoriating the Susan Harwood Capacity Building grants which are given to organizations that are either new to worker training or want to build a bigger capacity to train workers in a particular area. (I was funded through the Susan Harwood “Targeted Topics” program announced a couple weeks later; the programs are very similar.) He read from the list of grants:

There are three pages of them here.  The Alliance of Forest Workers and Harvesters in Albany, 85 grand.  Casa Latina, Seattle, 85 grand.  The Center for Human Services in Bethesda, Maryland, 85 grand.  Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, California, 85 grand.  Now, stick with me on this.  Farm Worker Legal Services of New York in Rochester, 85 grand.  Hispanic Resource Center of Larchmont & Mamaroneck in New York, 85 grand.  Lake-Sumter Community College, the grantee will assess worker needs and develop a training program on safe patient handling and movement practices for student nurses and health care providers in a three-county area in Florida, 85 grand…

And so on. Finally he gets to his main point.

Now, what does all this add up to?  Ladies and gentlemen, this is your tax dollars.  This is your tax dollars, and it’s all being parceled out by this administration behind the scenes.  Nobody knows anything about it.  You don’t know anything about it.

This whole program is cloaked in secrecy, despite the fact that he was reading from a public website. Despite the fact that the grant application announcement, which includes a detailed, quantitative rubric for scoring the grants, is published in the Federal Register months in advance. Despite the fact that I confirmed the news of my own grant when I read the OSHA press release on the Targeted Topics grants, which actually preceded their formal letter to my institution. He goes on:

This is nothing more than vote buying.  This is simple redistribution of wealth.  It’s coming from OSHA.  Nobody ever votes on any of this stuff.  These are not even earmarks.  This is just the administration passing out goodies, and it’s all your money, it’s all our money.

What is he saying, all federal grants should be voted on by the American public? Earmarks are better than competitive grants? This is a typical competitive grant process: solicitation is announced, applications are received and reviewed, awards are made.There’s way less secrecy in this process than in the earmark process, despite efforts by plenty of people to shine a brighter light on pork.

What does any of this have to do with the middle class, with working people or other titles given to Americans by the government?

I’m at a loss to fathom what’s he’s getting at here. The nursing students he cites above, who are going to learn better methods for lifting heavy patients so they don’t throw out their backs, aren’t part of the future middle class? Is he really questioning what a worker safety training program has to do with working people?

His thesis seems to be that since many of the grants were awarded to labor unions, universities and small community-based organizations the whole program is part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to redistribute wealth to illegal immigrants and political cronies.  OK, he has a problem with labor unions and groups that serve Spanish-speaking worker populations, which tilt toward voting for Democrats. No big surprise. But this really got me.

They want to get their hands on the public Treasury… This is how they’re supporting themselves.  They’re not doing any work.  They’re just siphoning off the work we all do, and now we don’t have the money to pay ‘em any of this.

I’m not sure if “they” are the left, the Department of Labor, or the grantees. I know it’s not the latter because after sitting through the OSHA orientation, I know I’m going to have to work my butt off and justify every single nickel spent on my program. The amount of scrutiny we will be under to meet our quarterly projections on a $236,000 project surpasses the oversight to which the National Science Foundation subjects our multi-million dollar research center. It may ease Mr. Limbaugh’s mind to learn that during a meeting lasting a day and a half, neither a single doughnut nor cup of coffee was served to attendees. Though I did receive from my Region 6 contact a modest bit of OSHA swag.

OSHA Region 6 patch

If my team does its job right, at the end of our grant employers and workers will have a better understanding of how to maintain safe workplaces as they advance U.S. global competitiveness in one of the hottest emerging technology areas of the past decade. And that’s good news for honest, hard-working Americans of all ideologies.

Posted in nanotechnology and occupational health, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Live-Tweeting the Buckyball Discovery Conference

I’ll be doing my best to cover the highlights of today’s Buckyball Discovery Conference, especially this morning’s Nobel session.

You can follow the conference at my Twitter feed.

UPDATE: The event is being webcast, be sure to join in Tuesday October 12 at 1:30 pm Central time for the environment, health and safety session.

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NSF Program Director Opening in NanoEHS Program

The National Science Foundation is seeking applicants for a program director for the Environmental Health and Safety of Nanotechnology Engineering (EHSN) program in the Division of Chemical, Bioengineering, Environmental, and Transport Systems (CBET). Qualified applicants will have the equivalent of associate or full professor status and have significant knowledge of research in the topical area. The full announcement is posted at this NSF website

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Final Program for Buckyball NanoEHS Session

A few minor adjustments have been made to the nano-EHS session at the Buckyball Discovery Conference, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Nobel-Prize winning discovery of C60 buckminsterfullerene. Here is the final program:

  • Welcoming Remarks, me
  • The NIOSH Nanotechnology Program: Strategic Research Supporting Responsible Development, Chuck Geraci (NIOSH)
  • How should we measure exposure to engineered nanoparticles and communicate the concomitant risks to workers? Bruce Lippy (The Lippy Group)
  • Health and Safety in Academic Research Involving Engineered Nanomaterials, Larry Gibbs (Stanford)
  • TBA, David Hobson (NanoTox)
  •  Lockheed Martin Policy for Managing Environmental, Safety, and Health Risks Associated with Nanomaterials, Pam Rosett (Lockheed Martin)
  • A Small Business Approach to Nanomaterial EHS, Charles Gause (Luna Innovations)
  • Needed: A Strategy for Nanotechnology Safety, Walt Trybula (Texas State-San Marcos)

Note: Kenneth Dawson’s presentation has been moved to the morning of October 13.

Hope to see you there!

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Shocking Video Reveals the Real Danger Posed by Buckyballs

It’s Buckyball Year here at Rice University (OK it’s always kinda Buckyball Year around here but this year is special) so no buckyball story, no matter how whimsical, is off-limits. At least until 2011. So I had to pass along this video of a live demonstration showing how buckyballs can cause serious damage if ingested. If I said that no animals were harmed during the making of this film I would be technically correct. (The animal was already dead.) Enjoy! And don’t thank me, thank Woot.

Posted in buckminsterfullerene, buckyball, humor | Leave a comment

Call for Papers: 5th International Conference on Nanotechnology – Occupational and Environmental Health

Me, Candace and Chuck on the
ferry to Suomenlinna
Just a quick news item to pass along. The call for papers is now open for the 5th International Symposium on Nanotechnology, Occupational and Environmental Health, being held in Boston next August. I went to last year’s meeting in Helsinki, Finland and was mightily impressed at the quality and depth of the speaker line-up. Plus, I got to add a couple more countries–Finland and Estonia–to my growing list of places visited. The photo shows me, next year’s co-organizer Candace Tsai and NIOSH’s Chuck Geraci on a ferry to the island of Suomenlinna at the end of the conference. Oh and check out the photo on the conference landing page. Who is that on the left?
Boston may not be as exotic as Finland but it’ll strain U.S. attendees’ travel budgets less and will probably be warmer. (I learned last year that autumn comes early to the northlands.) If you are interested in anything related to nanotechnology environment, health and safety research, this meeting is not to be missed.
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Nano Safety at the Buckyball Discovery Conference

By now you probably know that this year marks the anniversary of the discovery of C60. If not, go ahead and read all about Celebrating 25 Years of C60 Buckyball. I’ll wait…

The Buckyball Discovery Conference kicks off on Monday, October 11 with a “fireside chat” with the surviving members of the buckyball discovery team. (The Shell Auditorium doesn’t have a fireplace or, indeed, fire of any kind so we can take this to mean “panel” or perhaps “informal conversation in front of hundreds of people”. Maybe like Inside the Actor’s Studio. Or something.) Subsequent sessions feature some of the world’s top carbon nanotechnology researchers, including Millie Dresselhaus, Phaedon Avouris, and Hongjie Dai.

My session on Nanotechnology Occupational, Environmental, Health and Safety is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon from 1:30-4:40 pm. At least that’s what the schedule says. In fact we’ll have to extend that session a little because, to my great delight, pretty much everyone I invited to speak accepted. The speakers will address various aspects of toxicology, occupational practice and policy issues of engineered nanomaterials in general rather than focusing on carbon nanomaterials specifically.

As promised, here is the lineup:

  • Kenneth Dawson, University College Dublin
  • Charlie Gause, Luna Innovations
  • Chuck Geraci, Coordinator of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Nanotechnology Research Center
  • Larry Gibbs, Associate Vice-Provost for Environmental Health and Safety, Stanford University
  • Bruce Lippy, The Lippy Group (and co-author of The Nanotechnology and Hazardous Waste Worker Training paper)
  • Pam Rosett, Lockheed Martin Corporation
  • Walt Trybula, Texas State-San Marcos
  • [Janet Carter Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), pending]

There’s still time to register for what will prove to be a rocking good time. And while it’s still reaching daily highs of 90F (32C) here in Houston, the weather will be superb in a few weeks. Cool enough to hold a “fireside chat”. I promise.

Posted in buckminsterfullerene buckyball discovery, carbon nanomaterials, nanoEHS, nanotechnology and occupational health | Leave a comment

Nanotechnology and Hazardous Waste Worker Training: Preview of the NIEHS White Paper

About a year ago, I cold-called a program manager at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences  (NIEHS) to inquire about a new grant solicitation on hazardous waste worker training that I thought might be appropriate for my work with the GoodNanoGuide. Chip Hughes was friendly and approachable even as he told me he didn’t think our program was a good fit for this particular grant.When I began to explain a little more about our work on nanotechnology and occupational health, he got very interested and pulled up the GoodNanoGuide website during our phone chat. By the time the call was over Chip had invited me to participate in a panel on nanotechnology and control banding at the NIEHS Worker Education and Training Program’s annual awardees meeting in October 2009.

This was my first deep introduction to the hazardous waste worker trainer population and I learned a great deal about the challenges and strategies of communicating with people who deal with toxic materials every day. The hazardous waste worker population is very diverse with a range of educational and disciplinary backgrounds and trainers must understand the particular learning styles and needs of this community to be effective . Fortunately, I was not expected to know anything about training hazardous waste workers as I had been invited in as an expert in nanomaterials.

The panel I participated in was chaired by Dr. Bruce Lippy of The Lippy Group, an industrial hygienist with deep experience in developing and delivering training on worker safety. Joining me on the panel were Rick Niemeier of the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) and Sam Paik from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The subject of control banding is generating increasing interest in the nanotechnology environmental, health and safety impacts community. Put simply, control banding is a qualitative approach to risk assessment that provides guidance on occupational practice in the absence of established occupational exposure limits. The appeal of this commonsense approach is that it is based upon the nature of a specific occupational task and a few easily characterized features of the material being handled during the task. For example, an industrial hygienist might assess the dustiness or volatility of the nanoparticle, the duration of the task and the hazard profile of the non-nanoscale analog.The output is typically a rating the indicates the level of control needed to minimize exposure, ranging from general ventilation, total enclosure , or use of personal protective equipment, to a recommendation to seek expert advice for the most dangerous  operations. Applying control banding to nanotechnology workplaces makes a lot of sense to some occupational professionals as a potential stopgap approach to risk management until quantitative exposure limits have been established.

I came away from the ensuing roundtable discussion with the strong sense that this community was looking for more in-depth information about nanotechnology and that there were few resources out there targeted to them particularly. Apparently, others felt the same way because Bruce Lippy and I were asked to write a white paper that could be freely distributed throughout the community via the WETP National Clearinghouse for Worker Safety and Health Training. At long last we have produced a working draft of the document, which runs to 48 pages. The draft has been sent out for review to a number of key stakeholders and I eagerly await their feedback so we can improve and finalize the document. Bruce has been great to work with and I look forward to taking the next step of developing a set of training materials based on the concepts of the white paper.
Here’s an outline of the paper in its current form:

Training Workers on Risks of Nanotechnology
1. Purpose and overview
1.1 Purpose of this document
1.2 Outline
2. Introduction to nanotechnology and nanoparticles
2.1. Definitions
2.2. Quantifying the size of the industry and affected workforce
2.3. Nanoparticles’ environmental, health and safety impacts
3. Application of traditional risk management approaches to protect workers handling nanoparticles
3.1. Most likely exposures among NIEHS representative groups
3.2. Assessing exposures
3.2.1. Difficulty with the standard IH paradigm
3.2.2. Absence of a Permissible Exposure Limit
3.2.3. Approaches used by NIOSH to count particles and measure surface area
3.2.4. Results from limited sampling
3.3. Controlling exposures
3.3.1. Hierarchy of controls
3.3.2. Ventilation
3.3.3. HEPA filtration
3.3.4. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
3.3.5. Controlling safety hazards like fire potential
3.3.6. Hazard communication for nanoparticles
4. Regulatory and voluntary approaches specific to nanoparticles
4.1. Pro-active efforts of the federal government compared to past
4.2. Review of government regulatory actions
4.2.1. Overviews
4.2.2. Nanoparticles as toxic substances
4.2.3. Nanoparticles as pesticides
4.2.4. Nanoparticles as workplace toxicants
4.2.5. Regulations at the local level
4.3. Voluntary approaches
4.3.1. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
4.3.2. International Organization for Standardization (ISO)
4.3.3. ASTM International
4.3.4. NanoRisk Framework
4.3.5. Control banding
5. Resources
5.1. Broad array of materials available on government and academic websites, particularly NIOSH for workers
5.2. Possible teaching techniques involving web resources
5.3. Free training materials or graphics, animations: image gallery of nanoparticles
5.4. Possible posting on Clearinghouse website of PowerPoints focused on worker issues as well as control banding tools from Sam Paik
6. Suggested training program
6.1. Limited literature
6.1.1. Module 1: Introduction to nanotechnology and nanoparticles
6.1.2. Module 2: Environmental, health and safety impacts of nanoparticles
6.1.3. Module 3: Application of traditional risk management approaches to protect workers handling nanoparticles
6.1.4. Module 4: Regulatory and voluntary approaches specific to nanoparticles
6.2. Outline for 8-hour HAZWOPER refresher
6.2.1. Purpose
6.2.2. Module 1: Introduction
6.2.3. Module 2: Environmental, health and safety impacts
6.2.4. Module 3: Application of traditional risk management approaches to protect workers handling nanoparticles
6.2.5. Module 4: Regulatory and voluntary approaches specific to nanoparticles
6.3. Value of NIEHS Minimum Criteria in structuring nanoparticles training for workers

Resources on Nanotechnology and Worker Health

Posted in hazardous waste worker training, nanotechnology and control banding, nanotechnology and occupational health, NIEHS, white paper, Worker Education and Training Program | Leave a comment

Celebrating 25 Years of the C60 Buckyball

Twenty-five years ago in a lab right down the hall from my office at Rice University a serendipitous discovery was made that shook the worlds of chemistry and physics. A team of five researchers was trying to recreate conditions in interstellar space so they could study unstable molecules floating around up there and instead found something totally unexpected. The experiment involved atomizing a disc of graphite, then measuring the mass of the molecules that form when the atoms cool and recombine into different forms. The resultant mass spectrometry signal, instead of showing various small-chain fragments of organic molecules, showed a huge peak at mass 720 and very little else. The implications were that a single form of carbon, heretofore unknown, was energetically favored over most other combinations, including the species the team expected to find. After puzzling over how 60 carbon atoms (mass 12 x 60 atoms = 720 total mass) could arrange themselves in a very stable form, they proposed an elegant solution: a hollow shape made of interconnected hexagons and pentagons that resembles a nanoscopic soccer ball. They dubbed the C60 molecule buckminsterfullerene, as the little molecules resemble Lilliputian versions of American futurist and engineer R. Buckminster Fuller’s enormous geodesic architectural domes. The discovery of C60 buckminsterfullerene, or buckyball for short, garnered the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for Richard Smalley, Robert Curl and Harry Kroto, with special recognition going to graduate students James Heath and Sean O’Brien, who assisted with the experiments.
Since the buckyball discovery other types of carbon-based nanostructured materials have been found. The most significant of these is the family of hollow, tubular structures known as carbon nanotubes, which are essentially elongated buckyballs. Collectively, buckyballs, carbon nanotubes and related molecules are referred to as fullerenes. Nanotubes are perhaps even more significant from an application standpoint than their buckyball cousins. Stronger than steel and able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound (OK that last one not so much), nanotubes are now being investigated for use in flat panel displays, anti-static fabrics, medical devices, and many other technologies.
Nanotechnology Research at Rice University
The discovery of the buckyball has been credited with ushering in a new era of science and technology research into all types of nanomaterials. It’s fair to say that the buckyball and the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry also transformed Rice University. Smalley used his newfound status as a Nobel Laureate to get a new building built on campus (and another renovated when he found “his” building unsuitable), build a nanotube production facility to produce materials for nanotech research, recruit bright young faculty members and even land a major federally-funded research center. He was also pivotal in championing the National Nanotechnology Initiative at the federal level. Today Rice has over 100 faculty members researching nanotechnology in areas as diverse as energy, medicine, smart materials, sensors, environmental remediation, and many others. Despite spanning every academic division across the university, nanotechnology researchers at Rice can all come together in their home in the Richard E. Smalley Institute for Nanoscale Science and Engineering. The Smalley Institute, renamed for Smalley after his death in 2005, is credited with being the first academic nanotechnology institute in the world. It has been instrumental in developing cross-cutting research programs in aerospace, energy and materials.
2010: The Year of Nano
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the discovery of the buckyball, the Smalley Institute declared 2010 to be the Year of Nano. Among the year’s celebrations are a gala, commissioned buckyball symphony, Congressional briefing and reception, Civic Science public lecture, semester-long continuing education public course and technical symposium.
For me, the year’s events begin in earnest this week with a reception and Congressional briefing in Washington, DC. The purpose of these events is to connect with Congressional and agency leaders who have supported Rice in the past and build strong support for nanotechnology research in the future for all U.S. researchers. The real party begins on 10/10/10 with a gala in downtown Houston and a technical research symposium.
The Buckyball Discovery Conference is bringing to Rice the world’s leading carbon nanotechnology researchers, including the surviving members of the Nobel Prize team, to honor the original discovery as well as the 25 years of research that ensued. As part of that symposium I am organizing a session on environmental, health and safety impacts of nanomaterials with an emphasis on occupational health. (You didn’t think this post was going to end without a reference to risk, did you?) I’ll reveal the lineup in a future post but suffice it to say it will include a diverse group of experts from government, industry and academia. But if you follow what I do in my day job at the International Council on Nanotechnology, you already knew it would.

Whether you’re a nanotechnology fan, skeptic or critic, there is no denying that the discovery of C60 buckminsterfullerene was of immense historical significance. Google even got into the fun when it replaced its normal homepage icon with a Google buckyball doodle. It seems only fitting that Rice University and the Smalley Institute pay homage to its discovery, both to honor the memory of nanotechnology’s first and perhaps greatest champion and to highlight the amazing research that resulted directly or indirectly from that one outsized mass spectrometry peak 25 years ago.
Buckyball Resources

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Posted in buckminsterfullerene buckyball discovery, buckyball celebration, nanotubes | 2 Comments